1st Edition

Citizen Participation in the Age of Contracting When Service Delivery Trumps Democracy

    192 Pages 11 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    192 Pages 11 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Citizen Participation in the Age of Contracting is based on a simple premise: in democracies, power originates with citizens. While citizen participation in government remains a central tenet of democracy, public service delivery structures are considerably more complex today than they were fifty years ago.

    Today, governments contract with private organizations to deliver a wide array of services. Yet, we know very little about how citizens influence government decisions and policies in the "hollow state." Based on nearly 100 interviews with public and private managers, our findings about the state of citizen participation in contract governance are somewhat disheartening. Public and private organizations engaged citizens in a number of ways. However, most of their efforts failed to shift the power structure in communities and did not give citizens a chance to fundamentally shape local priorities and programs. Instead, elected officials and professional staff largely maintained control over significant policy and administrative decisions. Widespread, but narrow in their forms and impact, the participation practices we uncovered did not live up to the ideals of democracy and self-governance.

    Citizen Participation in the Age of Contracting is suitable for those who study public administration, as well as in other closely related fields such as nonprofit management and organizational behavior.


    1. The Rise and Fall of Citizen Participation in America

    2. Critical Choices in Citizen Participation

    3. How We Did Our Study

    4. Thinking Inside the Box

    5. Impact on The Margins

    6. It’s Not as Easy as It Seems

    7. When Client Service Trumps Democracy

    8. Active Citizenship in The Age of Contracting



    Anna A. Amirkhanyan is Associate Professor of Public Administration and Policy at American University. Her research and teaching focus on public and nonprofit management, privatization, performance, citizen engagement, and social policy. She is the author of many peer-reviewed research articles and book chapters, including publications in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Public Administration Review, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, and the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. She served on the Board of Directors for the Public Management Research Association and is on the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory’s editorial board.

    Kristina T. Lambright is Associate Professor of Public Administration at Binghamton University. Her research interests include cross-organizational service delivery structures, contracting, organizational performance, and campus-based civic engagement. She has published several articles in a cross-section of prominent public administration and nonprofit management journals and serves on the editorial boards of Public Administration Review, the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, The American Review of Public Administration, and the Journal of Public Affairs Education.

    'Contracting of public services is still upon us. This fascinating book examines if citizen participation is possible in the age of contracting. Based on around 100 interviews and a systematic and clear analysis, the book comes up with some important and astonishing results that will be of interest to scholars and students of contracting in public management and governance. The book is destined to be a landmark study on the relationship between citizens and contracting'.— Carsten Greve, Professor of Public Management and Governance, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

    'Amirkhanyan and Lambright’s work explores one of the central issues of any democratic state: sustaining an active citizenry. This is an especially important issue in light of the widespread use of nongovernmental contractors to deliver public services. Their rich analyses identify the diverse motives, strategies, and tradeoffs of public managers, private contractors, and citizens/clients in the arena of health and human services. They shed light on the tradeoffs and barriers managers and contractors face regarding managerial values and the democratic goal of meaningful citizen engagement.'Barbara Romzek, Professor of Public Administration and Policy in the School of Public Affairs at American University

    'Citizens want efficient government, but they also want democratic accountability. Nowhere is the tension between these two values greater than in the case of contracting. Leading experts on public sector contracting Amirkhanyan and Lambright offer an important account of how contracting of public services has come at the cost of transparency and participation.' Donald Moynihan, Director of the La Follette School of Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin-Madison

    'In this excellent book, Amirkhanyan and Lambright wed two important and long understudied areas of public administration scholarship: contract management and public participation…Offering stimulating findings and introducing a topic ripe for future research, the book is likely to become a staple for scholars interested in inter-sectoral management, cross-sector collaboration, and government contracting.'Benjamin M. Brunjes, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory

    'For students interested in the multifaceted nature of public participation today, Citizen Participation in the Age of Contracting is a useful introduction.'Brad A. M. Johnson, Journal of Public Affairs Education

    'Amirkhanyan and Lambright’s work sheds much needed light on the intricate relationships surrounding citizens and contracting. As with any landmark piece, the study raises various additional questions. For example, these results report on the perspective of managers, with all of the biases and motivations that accompany their roles.  How might an examination of these questions from the perspective of citizens, including the larger community and individual clients, fit in with this research? In this work, the devil is in the details. The interview approach, with all of the included direct quotes, provides an insightful and interesting foray into the work of contracted services. It is a worthwhile read for scholars and students of contracting, citizen participation, and health and human services, with constructive applications for practice.'Pamela S. Medina, Public Administration Review